Horses and the Heat: Why Salt and Water Aren’t Enough

… and where trace mineral blocks come up short

As summer saunters leisurely toward fall, many of us are enjoying increased horseback activity or starting to gear up for socially distanced shows. But while it’s good to keep our horses fit and occupied, their nutritional needs should also be a primary focus.

Heat can be a serious factor this time of year and, as any horseman knows, this is when a horse’s salt and water intake are especially important. You might even consider giving an occasional electrolyte boost before or after a long trail ride or competition. Sound familiar?

While it’s true that proper hydration and mineral support are critical during summer heat, there’s more to it than just a full water trough, a trace mineralized salt block and an occasional boost of electrolytes.

“But I feed the best hay and grain,” you might say—and that’s a big help! However, most forage and grain-based feeds won’t meet a horse’s mineral requirements. Unlike many vitamins, minerals cannot be produced by the horse’s body; yet they play a big part in the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth, also aiding in metabolic function. Typical grass and alfalfa hays lack enough copper, zinc, sodium, selenium, and iodine, among others. And cereal grains such as oats, barley and corn are notoriously low in calcium, selenium, iodine, zinc, cobalt, and more.

Minerals for Maintenance

When shopping for a complete mineral supplement for your horse, choose one that is formulated specifically for equines and that contains electrolytes in appropriate ratios. ADM’s GROSTRONG Minerals, which is available in both granular and block form, contains a complete blend of 28 minerals, vitamins (including natural-source vitamin E), and electrolytes (including salt) in all the required amounts.

Nor will the typical trace mineral block do the trick. Though it provides much of the sodium chloride (salt) lacking in grasses and natural feeds, the other minerals represented (usually zinc, manganese, iron, copper, iodine and cobalt) are present only in “trace” amounts, meaning well under one percent. In addition, they seldom contain any of the calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium that horses need.

So what’s the big deal about minerals? Well, let’s look, for example, at calcium and phosphorus, which a healthy horse needs in a roughly 2:1 ratio. Growing horses that lack sufficient calcium and phosphorus in the correct proportions can develop bone abnormalities and related ailments, while adult horses deficient in these minerals are vulnerable to weak bones and lameness.

And these are just two of the 14 minerals that horses need on a daily basis.

Hot Stuff

Ramp up the temperature—hello, dog days of August!—and your horse will be losing large amounts of one essential mineral, salt (sodium), every time he sweats. Sodium is also classified as an electrolyte—in other words, one of the electrically charged minerals necessary to maintain fluid balance, normal nerve impulse transmission and healthy circulatory and muscle function. However, sodium isn’t the only electrolyte that is lost in copious amounts when your horse perspires. He also loses potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium—all important to the electrochemical processes of the equine body.

Heat Abatement

That’s why any horse that works or sweats excessively in hot weather is a good candidate for daily electrolyte supplementation through a complete vitamin-mineral product. If the lost electrolytes aren’t replenished, the resulting imbalance can trigger a drop in blood pressure, not to mention neurological or cardiovascular issues. Lack of salt in particular can also cause a decrease in water intake, which can pave the way for colic.

So consider giving your horse daily mineral supplementation to look and feel his best, especially if he’s growing, a major sweater or in heavy work. Look for products containing all of the electrolytes needed to combat the heat, with everything in the right ratios. Quality vitamin-mineral supplements are available in both granular form, for top-dressing or mixing in the feed, and in block form, for free-choice feeding.

Last but definitely not least, make sure that the product you choose is formulated specifically for horses.

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